bill C-300

What to do about blood minerals in the DR Congo.

I  may have spoken too hastily in the past regarding conflict resources in the DR Congo. My rage at the inherent abuse led me to think that boycotting and protesting companies was perhaps the best way to go. I realize now, that I was wrong. Starting with the last steps in the chain is the wrong approach to this problem.

Over the past six years, I have delved into this subject more than any other and have even gone so far as to ban all products for my personal use if I didn’t know EXACTLY where they came from and what effect they had. I still feel comfortable with this personal decision. I have become essentially a non-consumer (except for second hand goods) and I like it that way because I cannot fathom my personal choices causing pain in others and could not live with myself and my luxuries at that expense. As such, I’ve taken to growing almost all of my own food, having friends make me new clothes from reclaimed fabric or hitting the second hand shop and living a pretty austere life away from any new fangled gadgets. I have been mocked by other friends who suggest I now live in the stone age (not quite, I still have many older modern conveniences such as my laptop that I’ve had for the past 8 years– she runs just fine!). Frankly, that doesn’t bother me. I enjoy being connected to what I produce and what I consume. It makes me feel whole, but it’s definitely not a plausible life choice for everyone.

Over the past several months, it has become blatantly clear to me that boycotts will not improve the situation for those in the DR Congo, in fact, it will only make things worse for the people on the ground. Nor will creating a certification-scheme for “fair trade” products to help ban all blood minerals and metals. Lobbying governments or companies will create further awareness on the issue, perhaps bringing much needed funding for Congolese humanitarian projects, but it won’t make the lives of the people any better and it won’t stop conflict resources from flooding the market.

It’s hard for me to admit this, especially since I have so vehemently proposed such things in the past and now feel stupid for doing so. I ask myself, how did I not come to this conclusion earlier? The evidence was all there, I was reading it daily, but these conclusions made me feel helpless. Boycotting and calling the governments and companies to change made me more able to do something about the problem. Again, I feel helpless and feel like I am starting from scratch.

So what can people in North America do?

I still advocate that people should be aware of what they are purchasing. They should know that when they buy luxuries, they are affecting more than just their pocketbook. They should not over-consume, and skyrocket demand for mining and resource extraction that may cause environmental degradation, abuse or suffering. But what can they do directly about the problem?

In a country where corruption is king, and violence rampant– certification schemes are going to be corrupted. One only has to look to the Kimberley Process and the recent problems in Zimbabwe to realize that certifications schemes are not all they are cracked up to be. Until corruption and governance can be stabilized, a certification scheme is out of the question. So should we just ban all such resources from the areas of fighting in the DRC?

Criminalizing imports in an area where the majority of the population is reliant on revenues from mineral exports means that the local economy would experience rapid devaluation of their currency, suddenly making their basic needs completely unaffordable. It will also push illegal trade much further underground, making it much harder to track and people will still be subject to abuse for the sake of minerals. These minerals will still end up in our market, only they will have gotten there through much shadier means.

The new Bill C-300 on the table in Canada will open channels for victims of human rights abuses at the hands of Canadian corporations acting overseas and in theory allow them to have more access to justice. The bill would allow guilty companies to be sanctioned, their support withdrawn from Export Development Canada (EDC), as well as any investment by the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) in their company shares. In practice, however, given the high risk nature and generally small size of extractive companies, they do not generally even receive EDC funding or CPP investment. Mining companies could feel the sanctions, but as the bill is a private member’s bill, it will not likely be receiving the financial resources it needs to adequately make this function-able in the first place. Not to mention that the average person living in the DRC would probably not even be aware of the existence of said bill to even begin to file a complaint. In its current form, the Bill is clearly problematic and will have little effect on the well-being of the affected population.

The American Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 is meant to push companies to report on any minerals used in their products coming from conflict areas and describe the steps they took to ensure the minerals procurement did not support arms groups. All information would be public for citizens so that they could make their purchasing choices accordingly. This will result in essentially boycotting minerals from the DRC since the cost to the companies will increase with their use and people will avoid buying from companies who use potentially conflict-laden materials. Boycotts, as mentioned above, will have devastating effects for the population. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 also amounts to a boycott.

Ok. Ok. Enough with the bad stuff, what will work?

It’s not that simple. What the DRC needs more than anything is good governance and security. “Without a Congolese state capable of playing its role in controlling and running affairs, how can the minerals of Kivu be de-criminalized?”

Since MONUC, the UN peacekeeping troop in the DRC,  has recently decided to scale back its mandate and reduce its troops by 2,000 to change itself into MONUSCO, the possibility of good governance in the country looks bleak. The latest UN resolution calls on MONUSCO to “support” and act “upon explicit request” from the Congolese government (one of the major human rights abusers in the country, including within the mineral trade), a move that offers no explicit details on how MONUSCO is supposed to support them or deal with abusive officers or improve the behaviour of the forces. The resolution also limits the mandate of civilian protection to only areas where peacekeepers are stationed, clawing back existing assistance. The former head of MONUC has also just retired to be replaced with the surprise choice of Alan Doss, a man with no previous UN experience, potentially leaving the already troublesome command structure weakened.

What can we do about this? Well, the UN already has the largest peacekeeping force in its history in the country, but it would take thousands more troops to really provide some semblance of stability and that is just not likely to happen.

We can petition our governments to push for greater UN presence in the country, to increase their spending to aid these endeavors and increase their arms sanctions or actually enforce them. We can push the UN to increase its mandate so it can try to actually secure unstable territory. We can push them to be more engaged with the local populations and look at ways to more effectively communicate with them (such as hiring more translators or setting up remote radio communication systems). We can push the UN to work on good governance programs, ensure active functioning justice systems, continue its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program and thoroughly train the police or in areas where there are no police, do the job of policing to ensure security. We can also push them to rethink their approach and adopt differing strategies that would allow them to better address the realities on the ground  (Séverine Autesserre has some good suggestions)  We can push the UN to hunt down and contain the rebel movements who are destabilizing the country. We can push the international community to actually listen to local solutions and help implement them. We can push our own governments to demand accountability for the billions of dollars they give to the Congolese government each year. We can push for any of our extraction companies in the DRC who are directly committing crimes in the country to be brought to justice and actually investigate all claims made by UN and other reports that implicate any companies in criminal actions within the country. We can push the media to actually show the severity of the conflict to help increase international aid and monitor the progress and to focus more on local solutions and initiatives to the problems. We can inform people of what is happening and encourage them to push their governments and the UN as well.

And we can hope that the world will listen and respond. With enough pressure, anything is possible.

** Update: I received a thoughtful email from Laura at Texas in Africa with some great suggestions who agrees with the idea that “getting a functioning security sector, police who can and will do their jobs, collecting taxes so that salaries can be paid, and getting the judiciary working again” are a top priority.

She stated, “I’ve found that the best thing for me to do in terms of formulating a response is to support organizations that I think are doing a good job, and to encourage others to do the same.  If you’re concerned about women who are victims of rape in the region, Heal Africa, Panzi Hospital, and Women for Women all do a wonderful job of helping them to return to health and rebuild their lives.  The IRC, Doctors without Borders, and Oxfam also do good work, especially in the education and health sectors.  Supporting  NGO work doesn’t solve the bigger issues, but it does help me to feel like I’m making a small difference, even as I work to figure out these issues and educate others about them.”

She also suggested reading over Resource Consulting Services Ltd. ‘s work for ideas on how to legalize and formalize the mineral trade in the DRC. Thanks Laura for your helpful suggestions!

 

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Halifax Initiative Mining Map- Mandatory not Voluntary

Here is copy of the Halifax Initiative ‘s mining map. It highlights some of the atrocities happening in Canadian mines all around the world.

Mandatory not Voluntary. Regulate Canadian Mining Companies Overseas!

Below are some of the legislative and corporate initiatives to stop mining abuses. These efforts are only a start and truly need to be increased. They are not enough to stop the violence.

In Canada:

Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries

In the US:

Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009

Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009

In the EU:

Global Witness pushes for legislation

Some of the corporations:

Congo tracking project aims to end IT industry’s use of “blood tin”

Supply chains unite to start iTSCi mineral traceability project in DRC

Global e-Sustainability Initiative

Connections to violence

So anyone who reads this blog probably knows by now that I write a lot about conflict resources. I have been scanning the mining news and other humanitarian sites for many years now, and the more I read and follow, the angrier I become.

I am angry because the abuses are so vast and I am disgusted because we as Canadians are so intricately involved in violence around the world and seem to not know about it, or worse, not care. We focus instead on providing relief from the problems we are helping to cause.

I have finally begun to share some of these news stories regarding conflict resources around the world on twitter (@miningconflict). I hope you will all follow it and send me links to new stories if you find them. This topic is one I choose to focus on, because it is the one place where we as Canadians are involved and I feel can make an actual difference without having to directly interfere in other governments or people’s affairs.

I have issues with “development“. I see it as a form of neo-colonialism. I also have issues with many humanitarian causes that can be unsustainable in the long run, vertical and even victimizing. For me, the best way to be a humanitarian is to change myself. I don’t need to go and help in some orphanage or school, or give money to some charity and often feel conflicted with both. I feel I can do far more with my choices than any money or service could ever “fix”.

By choosing to take a stand against supporting more violence and speaking out against it I feel I can be far more effective. I feel that stopping the problem needs to come to first. The saddest thing to me is that most people in Canada have no idea how much violence the Canadian government or Canadian companies have caused and are still causing worldwide, because I know they wouldn’t knowingly support these abuses. There’s little we feel we can do. There’s really no one-stop conflict-free shop (though that would be wonderful!). The government follows its lobbyists more than its constituents– and our letters seem useless.

Make no mistake about it. Our Canadian mining interests are helping to fuel violence around the world. Our stores are filled with products that have blood on them. Why do we allow this to continue? What can we do to change it? It NEEDS to be changed. And we need to do that from our end.  We need to say, we will not use products that have caused violence and we will tell the company of our choice. We need to say, we will not import products that have caused abuse or violence. We need to say, it will be illegal for our companies (and government) to cause abuse or violence in our country or abroad– and we will make sure that the legalities will actually be enforced.

We do have control over some things here in Canada. We have control over what we purchase. Over who we vote into office. Over what we voice our opinions on. These  far, far away countries are not more violent than Canada by accident. There is no magic separating “us” from “them” that makes Canada less violent. We are not somehow more advanced, or “developed”. They are not more prone to violence because of some inherent violence within them or some longstanding ethnic conflicts that we just somehow avoided here. We are connected to much of their violence. We are part of it with the choices we make each and every day here in Canada. This violence is structured. And it’s all about profit and power. Colonialism never really left us– only new masters are now in charge. Resources are still the main game.

The sooner we realize this, the better off we all will be. As long as incentives to violence remain, the longer the violence will remain. As long as we continue to “develop” countries into one progression of consumption where capitalism reigns, the longer the violence will remain. The longer we interfere and try to “fix” instead of seeing the problem amongst ourselves to “fix”, the longer the violence will remain. The only thing we need to “fix” is ourselves. We in North America need to fix our material obsessions. We need to stop being only consumers of things. Our consumption is ensuring others live in poverty and destruction while we live in luxury. We (our government) need to stop giving endless loans to warlord-like dictators who ensure it will be subsequent generations who will pay for their power. We need to to have accountability for our actions. We need to stop stealing resources away from the earth at alarming rates and funneling the profit to those who bring violence. We need to change our structures so they are fair and equitable to all. So that all have equal voice and say in affairs that concern them. This is not a “third”-world problem alone. It is a world problem. We all are the problem. And we all need to be the solution. We all need to sacrifice and change and make peace within our own lives.

What can you do about global violence? First- Stop consuming so much stuff! Contact the companies you purchase from and ask them to stop buying raw materials or manufactured goods that have fueled violence. Write to the government. Speak out about it. Tell everyone you know! And pass this message on!

Some Canadians are trying to find legal solutions. Bill C-300 is an important step in this direction. Please read up about it and speak out about it!

If you want to write to the government (and I’m hoping you will!), here are some people to try writing to:

John McKay, MP. Liberal Party of Canada, MckayJ@parl.gc.ca– responsible for bringing Bill C-300 to Parliament.

Kevin Sorenson, Chair, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, SorenK@parl.gc.ca
Angela Crandall, Clerk, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, faae@parl.gc.ca

or Write to:

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A6
Canada

The Prime Minister – pm@pm.gc.ca

The Foreign Affairs Minister- cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

The Leader of the Opposition- Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

Other party leaders in Parliament-  Layton.J@parl.gc.ca; duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca

Find your Member of Parliament here.

And find your MPP here.

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Corporate Accountability: Political action to stop human rights abuses by Canadian mining, oil and gas companies.

It is about time!  Finally, the government of Canada is seeing the light and is attempting to mandate the corporate social responsibility of the Canadian mining, gas and oil extraction industries necessary to stop their involvement in major human rights violations around the world. This bill, if enacted, would help to ensure that corporations engaged in mining, oil or gas activities who often receive significant financial and political  support from the Government of Canada act in a manner consistent with international environmental best practices and with Canada’s commitments to international human rights standards. The Act gives the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Trade the responsibility of holding corporations accountable for their practices by submitting annual reports to the House of Commons and the Senate for review and allowing for a formal complaints procedure for those who have been wronged. Essentially, it is enabling a process to help catch Canadians committing crimes around the world and to prevent human rights abuses from occurring by the hand of certain Canadian corporations.

Sadly, this bill almost didn’t make it to the third reading with 137 votes for and 133 against in Parliament… only one Conservative party member voted for this bill while almost all of the rest of the Conservative party (132 of the 137 “Nays”) voted against it.

Profits should not come before people and companies should be held liable if they are committing abuses around the world to make their profits. We have laws against these types of abuses here in Canada and have signed countless international covenants against them, so why should some be allowed to get away with them just because they happen on foreign soil or because they bring in massive profits in tax dollars? Why should the government of Canada support companies if they are helping to commit crimes around the world? This makes us all guilty!

WHY ARE WE CHOOSING ECONOMIC SECURITY OVER THE RIGHTS OF HUMAN BEINGS? THAT IS CRIMINAL!

Why do some stand against this bill? Well, one position is that it will “diminish the international competitiveness of the Canadian mining industry” and possibly “drive Canadian companies to seriously consider relocating their head offices and listing outside of Canada”. Frankly, if companies are not willing to be socially responsible enough to ensure that they are not committing major human rights abuses– then I say– GOOD RIDDANCE to them!

I do not want one cent of my tax dollars going to help support their abuses. It is disgusting to me that we live in a world that gives us little choice but to use human rights abusing products to be part of our society, mostly without our knowledge and I would be thrilled if allowed the choice to choose those that are human rights abuse free.

And as for the claim that it will diminish the international competitiveness of the industry– I say being free of human right abuses gives them a new competitive edge and added marketing capability. How upset are people to learn that their products are made in sweat shops? The mining, oil and gas industries are responsible for much more far reaching and atrocious abuses. Imagine the marketing potential if the government supported the ones who made the effort with a seal of “free of human rights abuses”?  It also will make Canadian industries the new standard for the world and a shining example of what is possible; that the industry does not have to be human rights abusing and that we can buy products such as metals without having to feel guilty.

Do we really want an industry that has a hand in committing awful crimes around the world to continue that practice? Does the profit to be had really mean more than the lives of those who are being wronged? Well, according to at least 133 members of our government (because I would also tend to include those who abstain), it does.

Please take the time to review this issue and write to your politicians about it. You can read about some of the human rights abuses associated with the mining, oil and gas industries here.

If you want to write to the government (and I’m hoping you will!), here are some people to try writing to:

John McKay, MP. Liberal Party of Canada, MckayJ@parl.gc.ca– responsible for bringing the bill to Parliament.

Kevin Sorenson, Chair, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, SorenK@parl.gc.ca
Angela Crandall, Clerk, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, faae@parl.gc.ca

or Write to:

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A6
Canada

The Prime Minister – pm@pm.gc.ca

The Foreign Affairs Minister- cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

The Leader of the Opposition- Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

Other party leaders in Parliament-  Layton.J@parl.gc.ca; duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca

Find your Member of Parliament here.

And find your MPP here.

Here are some sample letters for you to use:

If your MP voted for, or abstained on the Bill:

Date:

Dear

Re: Support for Bill C-300 on Corporate Accountability

I am writing to let you know that I strongly support Bill C-300, an Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries.

I am appalled by regular reports that Canadian mining, oil and gas companies are involved in human rights, labour, and environmental violations around the world and by the fact that these companies often receive financial and political support from the Canadian Government. The current government’s response to these concerns is its “Building the Canadian Advantage” strategy. This voluntary approach is completely inadequate.

Bill C-300 responds to the urgent need for a stronger regulatory framework to hold Canadian mining, oil and gas companies accountable, in Canada, for human rights, labour, and environmental violations overseas. Bill C-300 has garnered support across the country and internationally. It is supported by the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability (CNCA), an organization which includes Amnesty International Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Friends of the Earth, the Steelworkers Humanity Fund, the Canadian Labour Congress, KAIROS – Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, MiningWatch Canada and many other organizations. Bill C-300 has my support as well.

I urge Members of Parliament and the members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to support Bill C-300, recognizing that Bill C-300 reflects and responds to the recommendations that were made to the Government of Canada by the earlier Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2005.

Yours truly,

(your name and address)

If your MP voted against, you can try this:

Dear Mr.,

I am writing to let you know that I strongly support Bill C-300, an Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries. I am absolutely appalled and disgusted to learn that you voted against this bill. How can you vote against protecting the human rights of people? How can you choose economic security over human rights? Against what we as Canadians stand for? You do not represent your constituency by this vote, instead, you do us all a disservice as Canadians. This will not diminish the international competitiveness of the mining industry– it will give us a competitive edge and added marketing potential and set us as a standard for the world.

We should not be supporting, either financially or politically, companies that are responsible for major human right abuses around the world. We should not leave this to voluntary cooperation– because it is NOT enough to stop the abuses from happening. If it is illegal to commit these crimes on Canadian soil, then these companies should not be permitted (and even encouraged through our support) to do so on foreign soils. This is absolutely appalling and I am deeply disturbed that you have voted it down in Parliament. I am disgusted at your lack of compassion for the violated and lack of responsibility in this issue.

Bill C-300 responds to the urgent need for a stronger regulatory framework to hold Canadian mining, oil and gas companies accountable, in Canada, for human rights, labour, and environmental violations overseas. Bill C-300 has garnered support across the country and internationally. It is supported by the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability (CNCA), an organization which includes Amnesty International Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Friends of the Earth, the Steelworkers Humanity Fund, the Canadian Labour Congress, KAIROS – Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, MiningWatch Canada and many other organizations. Bill C-300 has my support as well.

I urge Members of Parliament and the members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to support Bill C-300, recognizing that Bill C-300 reflects and responds to the recommendations that were made to the Government of Canada by the earlier Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2005.

Yours truly,

(your name and address)


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